I recently caught up with the ever lovely John Owen-Jones for an article about Les Mis (you’ll have to wait a while for that, sorry!) and he mentioned that he would be travelling to Japan in the near future for a couple of concerts. The repertoire will be mainly musicals with songs from his last couple of albums thrown in…Rise Like A Phoenix should be amazing live. Tokyo will feature a band but Osaka will have a much more intimate feel with John accompanied by just John Quirke on piano.
During the interview, John talked about a few new projects coming up, one of which involved directing! Sounds intriguing.
In case, Japan is a long way to go for a concert, John is also appearing at the following UK summer concerts:
Les Mis legend John Owen-Jones has a new album out on Monday, entitled Rise. If only 1 March had been a Monday in 2015, but the day after St. David’s Day will do just as well for such a proud Welshman!
In his recent interview for thoughtsofjustafan, John Owen-Jones Time To Rise, John told us how he came to choose the tracks included on the album:
It’s a lengthy process actually. I spent a year putting together various tracklistings with various concepts attached to them but in the end went for a tracklisting that had variety. At one point I had a Rolling Stones track, something from a very rarely performed musical, an opera track, a prog rock track…the list goes on. But I very much wanted the album to be cohesive and some songs I really liked just didn’t fit well enough with some of my favourites. So they had to go. Hopefully I’ll use them down the line somewhere.
Great explanation of why these particular songs were chosen and on the whole I think he’s chosen well. The idea of the title track, Conchita Wurst’s Rise Like a Phoenix sounds a bit odd but when you listen to John singing it, it sounds fantastic, very Bondesque which is what they were after I understand. The last note alone is worth the price of the album – just think Thunderball, which is on John’s previous album, Unmasked.
As you would expect from an established West End star, musical choices feature quite heavily on the album, although it is nice to see some less well known songs from shows like Pippin which I enjoyed a lot. Empty Chairs, from Les Mis is a revelation; gentle when necessary, powerful when called for, this version brings a lot of emotion to the table (pardon the pun) and for me, is the best recording since Michael Ball in the original. Bui Doi from the revitalised Miss Saigon is also powerful yet emotional – I loved it.
There are two duets on the album, both from musicals: Ruthie Henshall on For Good from Wicked and Madelena Alberto on Once’s Falling Slowly. Of the two, I feel that For Good is the more successful as it complements their voices perfectly and brings out the chemistry that the two performers have.
These were the stand out tracks on Rise for me but my out and out favourite is Motherless Child. I didn’t recognise the song by name but when I heard it, I realised that I had heard it many times before. Many, many artists have covered it but my favourites are Mahalia Jackson and Tom Jones – John Owen-Jones has now joined my list of favourites. Another strong track is You Are So Beautiful...and it is.
As already noted, John is a proud Welshman and there is a strong Welsh presence here. Two of the bonus tracks are Welsh language versions of two of John’s most famous musical songs, Bring Him Home and Music of the Night which are head and shoulders above his arrangement of Bread of Heaven. Maybe it’s because I’m a traditionalist hymn lover at heart but neither of the arrangements on the two hymns featured are a winner – sorry John!
Overall, Rise is a great album with good song choices and beautiful vocals by John Owen-Jones and should appeal to lovers of good music everywhere, not just those who love musical theatre. Rise is available to buy here and is released on Monday 2 March:
A week today and West End star John Owen-Jones will be taking to the stage with Katherine Jenkins on the first night of her headline tour of the UK. John also has a new album, Rise, due for release on 2 March and if that wasn’t enough, it’s just been announced that he will star as Pirelli in the much anticipated ENO production of SweeneyTodd from 30 March to 12 April this year! Click here for tickets.
In advance of all this, I caught up with him to ask a few questions (my questions / comments in bold) – thanks John! Also, huge thanks to Jacqui Archer, JOJ super fan, who helped me come up with some great questions.
How did you choose the tracks for Rise – and what didn’t make the cut? It’s a lengthy process actually. I spent a year putting together various tracklistings with various concepts attached to them but in the end went for a tracklisting that had variety. At one point I had a Rolling Stones track, something from a very rarely performed musical, an opera track, a prog rock track…the list goes on. But I very much wanted the album to be cohesive and some songs I really liked just didn’t fit well enough with some of my favourites. So they had to go. Hopefully I’ll use them down the line somewhere.
How do you choose duetting partners on your albums, in this case Ruthie Henshall and Madalena Alberto? I try to choose singers I like that really fit the song well. I also choose people I’m friends with as there is already chemistry there. There were ideas for other duets but I knew I wanted to work with Ruthie and Madalena at some point as I think they are both brilliant. When putting the album together I knew I had the perfect songs for them to shine on so it ended up being an easy choice to have them on the album. I’m lucky they said yes!
You mix and produce your own music, why is that and what does it involve (most of us have no clue!)? Basically producing is pulling all the different elements of making a recording together and mixing is blending the various sounds together to make it sound as good as possible. A couple of months before recording starts I sit down with my record company and decide on the final tracks for the album. Then my musical director John Quirk and I go through each song and how it should sound, what instruments are needed etc. We then demo the songs with a just piano and vocal to get a feel for how the album should flow and how the songs sound together. I then arrange a running order of songs and start coming up with ideas for artwork while John arranges the music and books the musicians. We then rehearse and record the musicians over a few days whilst I sing a guide vocal to set tempos. After the music is recorded I’ll record my vocals which can take several weeks depending on the nature of the material. Guests artistes then record their contribution and the mixing process starts. This basically involves balancing all the sounds recorded. A trumpet may be too loud on one small part of a track for example so we adjust the volume to make it sit better in the overall sound. During mixing we may end up dropping or adding instruments as necessary, changing certain vocals, adding harmonics, sound effects and many other things. The end result is hopefully what I hear in my head. If not, things get tweaked until it sounds right to me. Mixing can be a very time consuming process as you have to mix and listen to every track dozens of times. On an album thats an average of 45 mins long that takes ages. It’s a finicky slow process but one which I enjoy as I love sculpting the sound. There are many singers out there who have nothing to do with this process and just record the vocals. That’s fine but it’s not really me. I love the idea that I’m shaping something artistic when I record an album and want to be involved in every aspect of production if I can.
What are you most looking forward to about touring with Katherine Jenkins and will you be duettingwith her in the show? I will be singing with her, yes. I’m looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to performing in venues/cities I’ve never been to before and meeting lots of new people. (Tickets are still available, click here).
If you concentrate on your solo music, will we be seeing you on your own headline tour? Hopefully! If audiences and promoters want me I’ll do it! Pretty sure there’s an audience out there for you John!
What is your favourite song to sing and what is the song you have sung most? Probably Bring Him Home from Les Miz. That answers both those questions I think!
If there is one song that Alfie Boe fans expect him to sing at a concert it is Bring Him Home; do your fans have thatsame expectation of you? Of course. Luckily I love singing it.
The video of you and Alfie singing BHH at his RAH concert in 2013 has over 115,000 views – any plans to worth with him again? Not at the moment – but hopefully our paths will cross again. I didn’t plan to work with him that night at the Albert Hall. He dragged me up onstage with no rehearsal, totally unprompted. It was a shock to say the least. I really enjoyed it though! The bloke sitting in the seat next to me didn’t know who I was (he’d been dragged along to the show by his wife I think) and was gobsmacked when I joined Alfie onstage!
When I asked the question, the views for this video stood at 115,000 – now they’re up to 122,000 and counting! Thanks for sharing Linda – it was a magical moment.
John’s new album, Rise is due to be released on 2 March and is available now for pre-order:
John’s new album got a plug on Flo Bannigan’s blog this week too! – click here.
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